Here are the circumstances. You are going to be exiled to a desert island. You can take along the complete works of ten non-fiction writers, but ten only. If they wrote any fiction, you can take that along as well.
I have done this for fiction writers, so now it is time to do it for non-fiction. Here are my ten, in alphabetical order, with a few honorable mentions tacked on at the end. I reserve the right to change my mind until I am actually dropped off on my lonely island.
1/Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850). I love this French economist for his desire to protect his neighbor. For a short introduction to his work, start with The Law. He wrote at least three other useful works. I have dedicated one of my books to him. On his death bed he twice murmured the words, “the truth,” then died. Very fitting final words for this great and good man.
2/Arthur C. Custance (1910-1985). He was a scientist and a Protestant Christian, and he put the two together in thought-provoking ways. He is perhaps best known for his 10-volume Doorway Papers. English/Canadian.
3/Robert L. Dabney (1820-1898). A deep-thinking American southern Calvinist. His writings sometimes rose to the prophetic, as for example his 1879 essay “Free Schools” which foresaw the devastation which public education would bring. His book A Defence of Virginia (1867) can be read with advantage by anyone wanting to think honestly about the “Civil War.”
4/Theodore Dalrymple (1949-still living in 2017). An English doctor/psychiatrist. A year and a half ago I read one of his books for the first time. Since then I have read thirteen more, and plan to keep on going till I have read as many as I can–he has written about 30 books, and keeps adding more. A great place to start would be Life at the Bottom: The Worldview that makes the Underclass. He writes with an instinctive love of moral order, with sardonic wit, and with many thoughtful insights about how the world is put together.
5/Thomas Fleming (1927-still living in 2017). Very prolific American writer, with about 23 histories and about 16 novels to his credit so far. The two histories I have read were both very good. If you want to understand how the U.S. has damaged the world (not just ourselves) by our idiotic intervention in World War I, read his The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I. We need hundreds or thousands more scholars like him. He is not to be confused with another distinguished Thomas Fleming, the paleoconservative political writer and former editor of “Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.”
6/Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (1909-1999). Austrian. He wrote a large handful of books on social and political issues, and also four novels. A very important book (1974) is Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse. The revised edition with a slightly different title will probably be easier to obtain.
7/Gary North (1942-still living in 2017). This American Calvinist historian/economist has written over 50 non-fiction books. He is a champion of the practical value of God’s law in all of life, including in the doings of civil government. A great place to start would be The Dominion Covenant: Genesis (vol. 1 of An Economic Commentary on the Bible). If you want a shorter starting point, try Honest Money. I have dedicated one of my books to him.
8/Robert Payne (1911-1983). Englishman Robert Payne wrote more than 110 books, including histories, biographies, and novels. I think I have read no more than three of his books. Long ago I appreciated The Life and Death of Lenin. I remember liking his attitude (Payne’s attitude, not Lenin’s!).
9/R. J. Rushdoony (1916-2001). His family fled the Armenian massacre, but he was born in the United States. He was a Calvinist missionary and pastor who wrote a lot of books. Like his son-in-law Gary North, he was a champion of the practical value of God’s law in all of life. A good place to start would be Politics of Guilt and Pity. I dedicated my first non-fiction book to him, my second father in the faith.
10/Thomas Sowell (1930-still living in 2017). Wikipedia calls him “economist, social theorist, political philosopher.” He has written more than 30 books, of which I have read about seven. He is a black African-American, approximately a conservative or libertarian. He stands in opposition to leftist fantasies. A great book to start with would be A Man of Letters, which is chock full of thoughtful insights.
Those are my ten. Here a few honorable mentions: American theologian Greg Bahnsen (1948-1995), American financial journalist Michael Lewis (1960-still living in 2017), English Anglican bishop R. J. Ryle (1816-1900), American Calvinist theologian James Henley Thornwell (1812-1862), English historian/novelist Charles Whiting (1926-2007).
As I compiled my list of the ten fiction writers I would take with me when exiled, and then my list of ten non-fiction writers, it was pressed in upon me that fiction has been more important to my life than has non-fiction. As I look through my list of fiction writers, I see lots of cases where I read books repeatedly. Not so for my non-fiction list, and often I have read only a tiny percentage of the books these non-fiction writers have produced. However, I do seem to read more non-fiction the older I get–although I have not run a statistical test to see if that is really true.
If I could take only my fiction writers, or only my non-fiction writers, it would be an easy choice: fiction. But I would hate to have to make such a choice. Hopefully my jailers will be merciful and will allow me to take along both types of books on to my desert island. I promise to behave quietly there–and if I don’t, who will it hurt? I’ll be alone.
[This blog post is a condensed version of Chapter 23 of my newest book due out within a few days or weeks: The Way to Do a Thing Is to Do It: Essays. For the full uncensored version of this post, plus 53 other chapters, please order the paperback book of about 302 pages from me. Details upon request. The cost will be $19.00, no shipping or handling added. The Way, etc. will also be available as an ebook at a cost of $1.99, from the usual suspects on the Internet.]